IRB Hall of Fame – Inductee No.53 – The 1920 and 1924 USA Olympic Teams
1920 squad: Daniel 'Danny' Carroll (player/coach), Charles Doe*, George Fish, James Fitzpatrick, Joseph Hunter, Morris Kirksey, Charles 'Red' Meehan, John Muldoon, John O’Neil, John 'Jack' Patrick, Cornelius 'Swede' Righter, Colby 'Babe' Slater, Rudolph 'Rudy' Scholz, Robert 'Dink' Templeton, Charles Tilden Jr (captain), Heaton Wrenn, William ‘Bill’ Muldoon, Matthew Hazeltine, Davis 'Dave' Wallace, James Winston, George Davis, Harold von Schmidt.
1924 squad: Philip Clark, Norman ‘Peabody’ Cleveland, Dudley De Groot, Robert Devereaux, George Dixon, Charles Doe, Linn Farrish, Edward ‘Mush’ Graff, Richard ‘Dick’ Hyland, Caesar Manelli, John O’Neil, John 'Jack' Patrick, William 'Lefty' Rogers, Rudolph 'Rudy' Scholz, Colby 'Babe' Slater (captain), Norman Slater, Edward Turkington, Alan Valentine, Alan Williams, Joseph Hunter, William ‘Bill’ Muldoon, Hugh ‘Pete’ Cunningham, John Cashel., Charles Austin (coach).
- Coached by 1908 Wallaby Olympic champion Daniel Carroll, at the time reading geology at Stanford University, the Californian students upset the odds by defeating France in the one and only match of the 1920 Olympic rugby tournament.
- In the final played on Sunday, 5 September at the Antwerp Olympic Stadium, the US team played a tight game, keeping the ball among forwards in rain and mud. Joseph Hunter scored a try, converted by 'Dink' Templeton who added a penalty for a final score of 8-0.
- There are conflicting reports on the actual US team line-up for the 1920 Olympic final. There is strong evidence to confirm the identity of 14 of the 15 gold medallists – the organisers awarded medals only to the playing members of the team (15 out of a squad of 22).
- Seven of the 10 Stanford University players in the squad have been confirmed as actual gold medal holders (Carroll, Doe, Kirksey, Patrick, Righter, Templeton and Wrenn), as well as four of the six Santa Clara University men (Scholz, O’Neill, John Muldoon and Fitzpatrick).
- There is also evidence that Colby Slater, try-scorer James Hunter and team captain Charles Tilden Jr – one of the four University of California squad members – had also played. That leaves George Fish and Charles Meehan in contention for the remaining ‘medal’ slot in the gold-winning team.
- The fundraising efforts for the team to attend the Olympics were led by the Californian Rugby Union, whose President W Harry Maloney was very much the inspiration behind the venture, the Olympic Club of San Francisco and the Universities, of which Stanford had the largest contingent.
- The rugby gold medal was Morris Kirksey’s third Olympic medal, having won the silver in the 100m dash and gold as a member of the world record-breaking 4x100 relay team. On the other hand, for Templeton, a talented track and field athlete, the rugby gold medal must have helped heal the disappointment of missing medals in the high jump, where he was disqualified, and long jump where he finished fourth.
- After the Olympics the French Federation invited the US team to tour France. The US team played four games. They won the matches against regional selections 26-0 in Lyons, 14-3 in Toulouse and 6-3 in Bordeaux, but lost the Test 14-5 in Paris on October 10, 1920, a match recognised, unlike the Olympic final, as a full Test by the FFR.
- The team line-up for the 1924 Olympic tournament of France, USA and Romania was identical to the entries in the 1919 Inter-Allied Games, the so-called Military Olympics, held in the aftermath of the First World War, with the three nations competing in the Rugby tournament for the Pershing Cup at the Colombes Stadium.
- The USA squad for the 1924 Olympic tournament included only seven of the 1920 Olympians (Charles Doe, Joseph Hunter, John O’Neil, John 'Jack' Patrick, Colby 'Babe' Slater, Rudolph 'Rudy' Scholz, William ‘Bill’ Muldoon) though several selected dropped out before departure for various reasons. However, unlike 1920 when only 15 players were rewarded with gold, in 1924 all 30 Americans received medals.
- In the 1924 Olympic tournament each of the three participating teams played two matches. In the opening match the USA overwhelmed Romania 37-0, centre Dick Hyland scored five tries and dynamic lock-forward Jack Patrick three. Captain Charlie Doe converted five of the eight tries and also landed a penalty.
- The American team was captained by 1920 veteran Charles Doe playing at fullback, with the back division including Edward Turkington, Norman Cleveland, Dick Hyland, George Dixon and Robert Devereaux (fly half) and Rudy Scholz (scrum half). Caesar Manelli, John O’Neil and Edward Graff formed the front row, Alan Valentine and Jack Patrick were in the second row and Norman Slater, Phil Clark and Al Williams in the back row.
- Similar to the 1920 team, several of the US players excelled in a number of sports: Alan Valentine and Dudley de Groot were All-American football players, with the latter also a college swimming champion, William Rogers was the captain of the Stanford basketball team, while Caesar Manelli was one of the University of Santa Clara's true sporting heroes, in addition to rugby he was an excellent baseball, basketball and American football player.
- In the Olympic final the American students surprised the hosts with their vigour and the creativity of their game, winning by 17-3, and therefore retaining the Olympic title won four years earlier in Antwerp.
• The US scored five tries through Lynn Farish (two), Jack Patrick, William Rogers and Caesar Manelli, with Charles Doe converting one of the five.
• Five of the 15 Americans Charles Doe, John O’Neil, John 'Jack' Patrick, Colby 'Babe' Slater and Rudolph 'Rudy' Scholz won their second Olympic gold in Paris.
• One of the significant factors in the success of the US team at the Olympics was coach Charles Austin, one of the finest American players before the First World War. As a playing member of the Olympic club, Austin appeared at centre for All America (USA) against the 1912 Wallabies and, while a Stanford University student, he partnered Daniel Carroll at centre against the 1913 All Blacks. His intense training sessions, accuracy and attention to detail became legendary and were the cornerstone of a deserved American win.
• After the tournament the well-known French writer Gaston Benac selected a Rest of the World team who, in his view, were capable of defeating the All Blacks. The 25-strong squad included nine English, nine French, two Welsh, two Scottish, two Irish and one American player, Jack Patrick.
What the players and officials said
1924 USA team captain Colby ‘Babe’ Slater (in a letter to his mother): “This trip is a considerable improvement over the last one (NB: 1920 Games) in that we have a better bunch of fellows and it is better managed, although financially it is in the bunk! We anticipated that we’d make plenty of expense money in England, but quite the reverse. We had to dig in our pockets for train fare to France. We played in England first at the close of their season and they had lost interest in the game and besides our games were poorly advertised and at the final game there was a soccer match going on that same time at Wembley, which drew about 100,000 people. However even if we haven’t any money, we are having a splendid time … Last Sunday we saw the French play the Romanians. The French won easily 61-3. They have a very strong team and I frankly believe our chances of beating them are slim although we are sure going to let them know they have been in a battle.”
William F Humphreys, San Francisco Olympic Club President and Manager USA Olympic team: “... there was no chance to recruit a team from the entire United States, so we agreed to make up a team from California. Expenses paid out of funds subscribed in this city (San Francisco). Naturally we are pleased that our men won the championship.”
Dudley de Groot, 1924 USA forward: “… certainly any group of Americans had a great deal of nerve to travel some 6,000 miles to play the greatest English teams at a game which in every sense of the word is English. But how much greater (or foolish) that nerve, when it is considered that that American team had never played a game as a unit. Nor had any of the members of the team played rugby for four years, while eight of the team had never played the game in their lives! And in spite of our confidence in ourselves we often wondered whether we had not undertaken something a little bit bigger than we could handle."
Felix ‘Rene’ Lasserre, 1924 France captain: “We were beaten, we all agree, simply because they were stronger, more athletic, more dynamic and much faster than us.”
Referee AC Freethy: “With several more weeks of training, they could beat any team in Europe, not barring the best of the British Isles. They play a great game.”
Samuel Goodman, 1920 team official and 1924 USA rugby team manager: “All other (countries) prefer rugby (to American football), which is less rough, less complicated, more sensational, more easily followed and consequently more appealing to the Olympics. Rugby now is played in practically no part of the United States except California and not much even there. This is probably the last rugby team American will ever send to Olympics competition. By 1928 we will have no players.”
Dan Lyle, former Eagles player and USA Sevens Tournament Director: “Collegiate athletics are the root of American sport and the ties between 1924 and today are now complete with Rugby’s re-inclusion in the Olympic Games.”
What they papers said
Frank Getty (United Press agency correspondent): “Hyland repeatedly raced through the entire French team, dodging and hurdling in what his opponents claimed was unorthodox play.”
Charles Gonduin (rugby correspondent, Sporting newspaper): “On the American side we must congratulate the whole fifteen for its magnificent will to win of each and every player, from one end of the field to the other.”
David Llewellyn (rugby commentator, Universal Service News): “The winning team brought glory to the United States by their victory and the fine sportsmanship they showed. However, there is one state which will perhaps more fully appreciate their efforts than others for the entire team, with the exception of one man – an Oxford Rhodes scholar – comes from California. One city in that state – San Francisco – is called home by three-quarters of the men on the American team. That may seem odd to some who will wonder why a representative team was selected from one locality.”
Andre Glarner (author and Rugby writer - The Excelsior):”... there is no dishonour in being beaten by athletes so admirably prepared as those we saw the other day, and on the contrary we should applaud a team who, truly wishing to win, in only one month has learned to adapt itself to European rugby, and profited by the lessons learned, and presented themselves in the tournament not as hesitant pupils but as dedicated students, who will surely attain the height of our best European teams.”
Andre Glarner (author and Rugby writer - The Excelsior): “By 17 to 3, the Californians have superabundantly proved their mastership, not, we must truly say, by a superior quality of their game, but by a tenacious ardour, an impeccable handling of the ball, by an exceptional physical condition and by an inexhaustible power of breath.”
RW Magnanon (rugby correspondent, Le Miroir des Sports): “More athletic, more willing, better trained, the Americans beat the French in the final of the Olympic rugby tournament. Fifteen magnificent American athletes practiced a very correct and rapid rugby and on Sunday they cleanly defeated the French rugby team. They did it with as much neatness as loyalty, playing hard but without meanness, only using, as was their right and I would say their duty too in an Olympic final, the weight of all extraordinary athletic qualities to which it was allied a desire to win and the qualities of resistance and strength, as well as methodical and serious training. The crowd once again, unfortunately, scandalously whistled, booed and hollered when they should have applauded and admired. Happily for our good name, our players who are sportsmen knew how to find words to excuse the bad manners of certain people who know nothing of sport.”